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After a typically enthralling edition of Strade Bianche, the WorldTour continues with Paris-Nice. Stage 1 starts and finishes in Saint-Cyr-l'École. There four category 3 climbs on the agenda but the fast men will fancy their chances of making it over those obstacles and fighting it out for the win. The stage gets underway in 13.00 CET.

The peloton is making its way through the neutralised zone en route to kilometre zero. Today's stage is composed of two laps of a 50-mile circuit starting and finishing in Saint-Cyr-l'École on the western fringe of Paris. The circuit includes the category 3 climbs of the Côte de Senlisse (1.1km at 5.5%) and the Côte de Méridon (1.4km at 5.2%), but with 26km from the top of the latter to the finish, it's hard to see past the sprinters this afternoon. But then again, anything can happen on any given day at Paris-Nice - and it usually does. 

-166km

The peloton has passed through kilometre zero and the 2021 Paris-Nice is officially underway. The Race to the Sun often involves riding through some especially miserable conditions to get to the Riviera - witness the corresponding stage a year ago - but conditions are mercifully pleasant this afternoon. It's not warm - the temperature is 8°C - but the sun is shining and the wind is a gentle 8kph. 

Today’s opening stage lends itself to a sprint and the volume of fast men in the peloton means there should be plenty of teams minded to keep this race together in the finale. Among the fast finishers on show today are Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) and Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic).

-158km

The speed is brisk in the opening kilometres and no break has been able to form as yet. 

Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) is back to defend his overall title, but the field of challengers is deep. Jai Hindley is here for his 2021 debut alongside DSM teammate Tiesj Benoot, Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk lead a strong Jumbo-Visma squad, while Ineos Grenadiers have brought Tao Geoghegan Hart, Riche Porte and Laurens De Plus. Aleksander Vlasov (Astana), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange), Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) are others to observe with interest.

-150km

Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie) has managed to escape the peloton and open a small lead. The Frenchman arrived at Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's team this winter after four years at Wanty-Gobert. 

-146km

Nobody looks eager to come with Doubey, who appears to have been given his day pass by the peloton. The Frenchman has a lead of almost a minute over the bunch.

-141km

Break:

Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie)

Peloton at 1:35

The 27-year-old Doubey has yet to win a race as a professional but he is a puncheur who has had some solid results in short stage races, including 11th overall at last year’s Paris-Nice and 8th at the previous year’s Tour of Oman. He was also in the winning move at the Trofeo Matteotti in 2019, placing 4th behind Matteo Trentin.

-138km

Doubey continues to build his lead, which has now yawned out to 3:35 over the peloton.

Giro d'Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart is flanked by two-time Paris-Nice winner Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis, Laurens De Plus and Ben Swift in a strong Ineos team this week. "The first TT of the year will be interesting and with myself, Richie, Rohan of course for the time trial as well, and with the team, we have here I think we can be competitive every day," Geoghegan Hart said. "It’s a race of two or even three parts but we’ll be looking to get involved every day." Read more here.

BLAUSASC FRANCE FEBRUARY 21 Tao Geoghegan Hart of United Kingdom and Team INEOS Grenadiers Julien El Fares of France and Team EF Education Nippo during the 53rd Tour Des Alpes Maritimes Et Du Var Stage 3 a 1347km stage from Blausasc to Blausasc letour0683 on February 21 2021 in Blausasc France Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

-128km

For the time being, the only man involved in racing at Paris-Nice is Fabien Doubey and the Total Direct Energie rider has stretched his lead out to five minutes.

Fabien Doubey on stage 1 of Paris-Nice

Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie) alone at the head of the race on stage 1 of Paris-Nice. (Image credit: Getty Images)

-123km

Break:

Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie)

Peloton at 5:00

Per letour.fr, Doubey has covered 43km in the opening hour of racing, and his lead over the peloton has stretched out further, to 5:25.

Doubey is over the day's first climb, the Côte de Senlisse (1.1km at 5.5%), and heading towards the second, the Côte de Méridon (1.4km at 5.2%). The race will come back and tackle this ascents again on the second of the two laps.

-114km

Doubey's advantage has stabilised at around the 5-minute mark, and the sprinters' teams will be content to hold him at that distance for the time being. 

-103km

Tim Declercq has been setting the tempo at the head of the peloton on behalf of Sam Bennett and Deceuninck-QuickStep, keeping Doubey's lead at just over 5 minutes. 

Declercq led the peloton over the Côte de Senlisse, while Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) led the peloton over the following Côte de Méridon. Bernard had previously taken third on the Senlisse, but the provisional lead in the mountains classification is, of course, with Doubey, who led over each ascent to pick up six points. 

-92km

The slow but inexorable process of paring down Doubey's lead is underway. His buffer is down to 4:10.

Sam Bennett and Arnaud Démare are perhaps the favourites for today's stage and they were certaintly among the peloton's outstanding sprinters in 2020. The Frenchman was absent from the Tour de France, however, while Bennett opted for the Vuelta instead of the Giro, so their head-to-head encounters were limited when the season resumed after the lockdown. Démare won two stages of the Tour de Wallonnie to Bennett’s one, but the Irishman had the better of their encounter at the Vuelta a Burgos when he summoned up a remarkably long effort to win in Roa de Duero. This is their first meeting in 2021.

-83km

Doubey, meanwhile, has completed the first of the stage's two long laps and he came through the start-finish line with a lead of 3:25 over the peloton.

Away from Paris-Nice, Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) has just continued his fine recent run with sprint victory at the GP Jean-Pierre Monseré ahead of one Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep). The Belgian kicked from a long, long way out and although Cavendish finished strongly, he had too much ground to make up to take the win.

DOUR BELGIUM MARCH 02 Podium Tim Merlier of Belgium and Team AlpecinFenix Celebration during the 53rd Grand Prix Le Samyn 2021 Mens Elite a 2054km race from Quaregnon to Dour Trophy Beer Mask Covid Safety Measures GPSamyn on March 02 2021 in Dour Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

-74km

Break:

Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie)

Peloton at 2:38

Doubey led the peloton through the first of the day's intermediate sprints at  Chateaufort, incidentally, where he picked up 3 bonus seconds, while Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) won the sprint for 2 seconds in the peloton ahead of Ben Swift (Ineos), who collected one bonus second.

There's another intermediate sprint, again in  Chateaufort, with 15.5km to go. 

-70km

Deceuninck-QuickStep, Trek-Segafredo and Groupama-FDJ are among the teams present in numbers towards the head of the peloton, which is 2:07 down on Doubey. It's difficult to imagine today's stage escaping the clutches of the sprinters, but the opening stage of Paris-Nice has a tendency to produce all sorts of drama, from last year's breathless finale in Plaisir to Romain Bardet's expulsion on the corresponding stage in 2017.

The pace is gradually rising in the peloton, which is now 1:39 down on Doubey. Gorupama-FDJ, Deceuninck-QuickStep and Trek-Segafredo are positioned near the front and a delegation from Ineos is now moving up.

-66km

Break:

Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie)

Peloton at 1:26

A crash towards the front of the peloton sees a number of riders come down, including Laurens De Plus (Ineos). The Belgian is quickly back on his bike and chasing back on calmly in the company of Ben O'Connor (AG2R-Citroen).

It doesn't appear that any riders suffered lasting injury that crash, with the fallers tumbling into the grass banking and quickly remounting.  

The opening stage of Paris-Nice felt like the private property of Arnaud Démare between 2016 and 2018, when he claimed the spoils in three successive years. The French champion has started Paris-Nice every year since 2015 but finished it just once, in 2019. 

-61km

Doubey's lead is continuing to fall even if the peloton is not yet racing with particular urgency. 1:19 the gap.

The road rises gradually in the final kilometre and it's hard to say who exactly that will favour. Sam Bennett, Arnaud Demare and Michael Matthews all have a decent track record of winning sprints on gently rising finales. 

-58km

The peloton is navigating some exposed roads on this sector of the route but the relatively gentle wind means that echelons are not as much of a concern as they might have been. Even so, the GC contenders will be vigilant on the run-in.

Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) sets the tempo in the peloton, just over a minute down on the lone leader Doubey.

-57km

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal) attacks from the peloton with teammate Stefano Oldani on his wheel.

Anthony Perez (Cofidis) and Chris Lawless (Total Direct Energie) have come with the Lotto Soudal duo.

Gilbert asks for a turn from Lawless, who points to his earpiece and refuses. Gilbert throws up a hand in exasperation but he keeps riding and the quartet is about to bridge up to Doubey.

-52km

Gilbert, Oldani, Perez and Lawless join Doubey at the front, 20 seconds clear of the peloton. 

-51km

Break:

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal), Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Chris Lawless (Total Direct Energie), Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie)

Peloton at 0:18

Gilbert jumps again and only Perez and Oldani can come with him initially, while the two Total Direct Energie riders are caught flat footed. Doubey is the first to make it up to them, while Lawless is still trying to get across. 

Lawless sits up and is caught by the peloton, which is 19 seconds behind Gilbert, Oldani, Perez and Doubey.

There is no change in attitude just yet from Groupama-FDJ, Trek-Segafredo and Deceuninck-QuickStep, who maintain a steady tempo at the head of the peloton.

-46km

Break:

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal), Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie)

Peloton at 0:28

Gilbert is fully committed to his effort at the head of the race. The Belgian has raced as early and often as the often bare early-season calendar allowed, lining out in the GP La Marseillaise, Etoile de Besseges, Tour de la Provence and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, where he placed 5th. Milan-San Remo - the one monument missing from his palmares - is the first major target of his campaign.

Delegations from Ineos and BikeExchange move towards the front row of the peloton as the road narrows slightly.

Bruno Armirail sets the pace in the peloton for Groupama-FDJ, 28 seconds down on Gilbert et al.

-40km

Break:

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal), Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie)

Peloton at 0:31

A crash at the rear of the peloton sees a couple of riders end up on the ground. Matthias Brandle (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Sander Armee (Qhubeka-Assos) are the two fallers. Both are back on their bikes anc chasing back, though Armee is pedalling a little gingerly.

Oldani, a second-year professional from Milan, is performing well alongside his Lotto teammate Gilbert in this break. Perez is coming through as well, and Doubey is contributing as best he can after a long time alone off the front of the race. This quartet still has 30 seconds in hand on the peloton.

-35km

Arkea-Samsic begin to move up in the peloton on behalf of Nacer Bouhanni. The scramble for positions is slowly getting underway in the bunch ahead of what is sure to be a breathless finale.

The escapees are approaching the category 3 Côte de Senlisse (1.1km at 5.5%), where Doubey will hope to pick up a point to secure the king of the mountains jersey this evening.

Gilbert continues to dictate the terms at the head of the break on the Côte de Senlisse. 25 seconds the gap to the bunch.

Another crash in the peloton, with Richie Porte (Ineos), Connor Swift (Arkea-Samsic) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) among the fallers. Rohan Dennis (Ineos) was also held up behind the crash. 

Vlasov and Dennis are quickly back in the race. Richie Porte, meanwhile, looks to be injured. He remounts and starts riding gingerly but then he steps off his bike again and seeks aid from the race doctor. He leans against the car, grimacing, and it looks as though his race could be over. 

Porte is back on his bike again, seemingly eager to continue the race. He is pedalling very gingerly but apparently keen to get to the finish of the day's stage at least.  

-29km

Out in front, Doubey looked to have led over the climb to secure the king of the mountains jersey, even if the on-screen graphic suggests otherwise. In any case, Doubey has since sat up and been caught by the bunch. Gilbert, Perez and Oldani remain in front, but with just 14 seconds on the peloton. 

-27km

Break:

Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal), Stefano Oldani (Lotto Soudal), Anthony Perez (Cofidis)

Peloton at 0:06

Gilbert, Perez and Oldani are caught by the peloton on the lower slopes of the Côte de Méridon (1.4km at 5.2%).

The pace drops on the climb after the break was swept up, with the sprinters' teams content with the current detente as they approach the summit.

-25.5km

Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) was in front as the peloton crested the summit. Fabien Doubey (Total Direct Energie) will wear the polka dots on the podium this afternoon.

-25km

Lotto Soudal continue their aggression, with another man in red and black slinging himself off the front of the peloton after the climb. Kobe Goosens has opened a small lead over the bunch.

20 seconds for Kobe Goossens over the peloton. 

Another crash in the peloton sees Maxime Bouet (Arkea-Samsic) and Kaden Groves (BikeExchange) go down. Ben Swift was held up behind them, but he managed to avoid falling.

-22km

Break:

Kobe Goossens (Lotto Soudal)

Peloton at 0:23

Team BikeExchange, Cofidis and Groupama-FDJ occupy the front positions in the peloton, 22 seconds behind the lone leader Goossens. 

The second intermediate sprint comes with 15.5km to go, with a 3-second time bonus for the first across the line.

-20km

Kobe Goossens (Lotto Soudal) carries a lead of 12 seconds into the final 20km. 

Goossens remains out in front with a lead of 8 seconds or so. He turns his head intermittently, as though expecting to be reeled in at any time, but the gap isn't closing as quickly as he'd anticipated.

-17.5km

Bike-Exchange, Bora-Hansgrohe, UAE Team Emirates and Groupama-FDJ are occupying the prime real estate at the head of the peloton as Goossens is eventually reeled in.

-17km

BikeExchange wind up the pace at the head of the peloton. Matthews may well be minded to seek more bonus seconds at the sprint.

-15.5km

Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) accelerates to win the uphill sprint ahead of Tiesj Benoot (DSM) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). Matthews has picked up five bonus seconds today but that was a big, big effort to make with the finish just over 15km away.

-15km

Pierre Latour (Total Direct Energie) senses a lull after the sprint and he tries to break clear.

Kristian Sbaragli (Alpecin-Fenix) goes across to Latour, and four other riders are coming across to the two leaders...

Seven riders are in front: Tiesj Benoot, Pierre Latour, Cyril Gautier, Kristian Sbaragli, Edward Theuns, Mattia Catteno and David de la Cruz. 

-12km

Luis Leon Sanchez and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) are trying to bridge across to this group, which is dangling just 10 seconds or so ahead of the bunch.

Vlasov and Luis Leon Sanchez are just on the cusp of bridging across when the peloton sweeps up the move. Cyril Gautier (B&B Hotels) is the last man standing from the move, but he won't last long out in front alone.

-10km

Gautier is brought back with 10km to go. Gruppo compatto.

Richie Porte (Ineos) has abandoned Paris-Nice after his earlier crash. The Australian remounted and tried to continue, but it was clear that he was in considerable pain.

-8km

Bahrain Victorious come to the head of the peloton, as the sprinters' teams begin to arrange themselves.

-7km

Bora-Hansgrohe take over in front. Delegations from Trek-Segafredo and B&B Hotels are also positioned at the head of the peloton.

-6km

Trek-Segafredo wind up the pace at the head of the peloton as race sweeps by the Palace of Versailles. 

-5km

Groupama-FDJ move up in the service of the, er, king of opening stages of the Race to the Sun, Arnaud Demare. 

-4km

Jumbo-Visma show themselves for the front time, eager to make sure Primoz Roglic is safely tucked in near the head of the bunch for the 3km to go marker. 

-3km

Into the final 3km. Demare is well posted behind his Groupama-FDJ teammates. Deceuninck-QuickStep haven't emerged en masse just yet...

-2km

Groupama-FDJ lead into the last 2km. Bahrain move Phil Bauhaus up and DSM do the same for Cees Bol.

-1.5km

Deceuninck-QuickStep enter the picture for Sam Bennett, who has Giacomo Nizzolo locked on his wheel.

-1km

Beneath the flamme rouge, Demare is in fourth place behind three Groupama-FDJ teammates.

A crash in the peloton that will surely have held up some sprinters... Groupama-FDJ still lead... Demare sits in second place...

Pascal Ackermann opens his sprint from distance...

Arnaud Demare is battling to get on terms, but Sam Bennett is also bearing down quickly on the front of the race...

Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) wins stage 1 of PAris-Nice. 

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) takes second ahead of Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ). 

Jordi Meeus provided a fine lead-out for Ackermann, who went from distance, but Bennett was tucked on his wheel. The Irishman sprinted with his hands on the hoods of the bars - coaching manual be damned, he was the fastest by some distance and he claimed an emphatic victory to take the overall lead.

Result

1          Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-QuickStep     3:51:38

2          Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ          

3          Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo          

4          Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix

5          Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM 

6          Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe    

7          Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious        

8          Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis      

9          André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation  

10        Rudy Barbier (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation

General classification

1          Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck-QuickStep     3:51:28

2          Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ           00:00:04

3          Michael Matthews (Aus) Team BikeExchange         00:00:05

4          Mads Pedersen (Den) Trek-Segafredo           00:00:06

5          Ben Swift (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers     00:00:09         

6          Jasper Philipsen (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix 00:00:10

7          Bryan Coquard (Fra) B&B Hotels p/b KTM 

8          Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe    

9          Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious        

10        Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis      

Sam Bennett on his stage win: “The guys did a fantastic job again. We were a little blocked in the last 15km. The nature of the sprint here, with the straight roads, was chaotic and then the narrowing in the last 500m made it very, very tricky, but we planned to get me into position. The boys delivered me on a wheel rather than doing a full-lead out to the last 200 or 150m. They put me on the wheel with 1k to go. The boys did a great job and Michael [Mørkøv] again as just so calm. You never see him stress and he always seems to get me there. The team were amazing and I’m happy to finish it off.”

The Carrick-on-Suir man was already a double stage winner at the UAE Tour and he racked up his third WorldTour victory of 2021 here. "Coming back here, where there’s racing the whole day rather than the last 10-20km, I was a bit worried that maybe the legs wouldn’t be there in the sprint, but they felt pretty good today and I’m really happy that the shape was good."

SAINTCYRLECOLE FRANCE MARCH 07 Arrival Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Celebration Arnaud Demare of France and Team Groupama FDJ Mads Pedersen of Denmark and Team Trek Segafredo during the 79th Paris Nice 2021 Stage 1 a 166km stage from SaintCyrlEcole to SaintCyrlEcole ParisNice on March 07 2021 in SaintCyrlEcole France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

That's Bennett's fourth stage win at Paris-Nice after he opened his account in 2017 and added two more in 2019. This year, incidentally, marks the 40th anniversary of Stephen Roche's overall victory of 1981, which was the first of eight successive overall wins from Irish riders. Sean Kelly accounted for the following seven wins, though Roche was second to him in 1984 and 1985, and led into the final day in 1987. The Irish sequence was ended by Miguel Indurain in 1989, with Roche again second, and they occupied the same positions in 1990. 

SAINTCYRLECOLE FRANCE MARCH 07 Arrival Sam Bennett of Ireland and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Celebration Arnaud Demare of France and Team Groupama FDJ Mads Pedersen of Denmark and Team Trek Segafredo during the 79th Paris Nice 2021 Stage 1 a 166km stage from SaintCyrlEcole to SaintCyrlEcole ParisNice on March 07 2021 in SaintCyrlEcole France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

SAINTCYRLECOLE FRANCE MARCH 07 Richie Porte of Australia and Team INEOS Grenadiers during the 79th Paris Nice 2021 Stage 1 a 166km stage from SaintCyrlEcole to SaintCyrlEcole Injury ParisNice on March 07 2021 in SaintCyrlEcole France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Outside of Bennett's victory, the news of the day is Richie Porte's unfortunate abandon. The two-time Paris-Nice winner was a faller with 29km to go and although he remounted and tried to continue, he ultimately had to withdraw before the finish. We'll have details on his injuries shortly.

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) on his third-place finish: “The boys did a perfect job, and in the end, we got boxed in close to the barrier. Démare, he didn’t want to let us through, so it was a pity. I had to just stop pedalling for a second and then you lose the momentum a bit. But it’s nice to be at least on the podium for the stage and it’s a good start to Paris-Nice and we’re ready for some more. I’m a slow starter and for a slow starter, the start of the season has been quite ok. “

A full report, results and pictures from today's stage are available here.

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